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Beauty and the Beast
1991 - G - 84 (original theatrical version), 90 (2002 Special Edition) Mins.
Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Producer: Don Hahn
Written By: Linda Woolverton
Starring: Paige O' Hara, Angela Lansbury, Robby Benson
Review by: Joe Jarvis
Official Site: disneyvideos.disney.go.com/moviefinder/products/2496203.html
   
After years of animation production that was largely unsuccessful culminating in the near catastrophic failure of the "The Black Cauldron", the Disney studio took stock and refocused their efforts on returning the studio to greatness. "Basil the Great Mouse Detective" and "Oliver and Company" took a step in the right direction, harkening back to the days of the traditional Disney musical, but it was only with "The Little Mermaid" in 1989 that the Disney studio made a film which truly deserved a place along side the classic Walt-era films like "Snow White" and "Fantasia". Many films don't get the attention they deserve, but "Mermaid" thankfully did; it became the most successful first-run release of an animated film in history and was a huge critical success too. After such an impressive return to form, could the studio continue to make films that would live up to standard set by "The Little Mermaid"? Fortunately, yes. The nineties saw some of the best Disney movies ever made, one of which is the animated adaptation of the French fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast". "Beauty and the Beast" was an even greater success than "The Little Mermaid", achieving a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars (the first for an animated film, although the partly-animated "Mary Poppins" got one in 1964). I'm not sure if "Beast" entirely lives up to its predecessor "Mermaid" quality-wise, but it comes extremely close, and is one of the best films that Disney has ever made.

The story follows a Beauty and a Beast (surprise, surprise) although the Beast wasn't originally a Beast. We learn from a beautiful stained glass window prologue that he was once an arrogant prince until the day he upset an Enchantress disguised as a little old woman. Seeing there was no love in the Prince's heart, the Enchantress transformed him into a hideous Beast and turned his servants into talking objects. The only way to break this curse is for the Beast despite his now fearsome outer form, to win a girl's heart. Unfortunately, the Beast is living in a castle in the middle of a dark wood, which hamstrings his chances even further.

Fast forward a few years to a little town nearby, where we meet book-worm Belle. Belle is one of the better Disney heroines; like Ariel from "The Little Mermaid", Belle is not a cipher like Snow White or Cinderella, but a fully blooded character. She's beautiful, although everybody in town thinks that she's a little weird, except for the handsome on the outside, but ugly on the inside Gaston who wants to marry Belle soley on the basis of her looks. Belle has too much sense to get involved with a vain lout like Gaston and runs away from the village to escape his marriage proposal.

Belle soon realises that her inventor father Maurice is being held captive in the Beast's castle for inadvertantly intruding. She goes there to check things out, only to discover that the Beast has inprisoned her father and has no intention of releasing him. In an attempt to save his life, Belle offers to stay in his place. Seeing that Belle is both possibly the solution to his problem, not to mention a total babe, the Beast accepts the offer and arranges for Belle to inhabit a nice bedroom as opposed to a stinky tower.

The plot seems to teeter for a moment on the brink of a disasterous gambit - the Beast trying to woo Belle with the two protagonists sitting down to dinner every night, while they play out the story in tedious and predictable fashion, yet the film never falls into this trap. A love triangle emerges with the Beast and Gaston trying to win Belle's heart, drawing the viewer even further into the plot. The Beast's servants in the castle also enhance the film nicely. A candlestick named Lumiere, a clock named Cogsworth and a tea pot maid named Mrs Pots and her son Chip the tea cup help keep things moving by continually drawing Belle and the Beast together. They also provide a lot of the film's entertainment through their comedic role, and with their featured songs, such as the incredible "Be Our Guest", penned by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who were also responsible for the scores of "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid".

Like nearly all Disney movies, "Beauty and the Beast" contains great animation and lovely art direction. It looks good on video, but even better on DVD. The DVD of "Beauty and the Beast" is one of Disney's Special Editions in the same vein as editions for "Aladdin" and "Sleeping Beauty", meaning that the film has a digital transfer, as well as fun goodies for the family. Sadly, this DVD edition is out of print, but if you can get a copy somehow, go for it. You even have the option of watching the movie in a work in progress version or an extended version which includes a charming song called "Human Again".

One of the rare films I'd say reaches a level of perfection; "Beauty and the Beast" along with "The Little Mermaid", "Aladdin", "Pinocchio" and "Alice in Wonderland" ranks as one of the greatest animated films ever made.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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